Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Favorite Marvel Comics Superheroes

 . . . And Why Some of Them Should be Used More

Disclaimer: As you’ll notice, I’m a huge fan of the Avengers comic books, so most of my selections will come from there. Also, there's an abundance of females on the list due to my boredom with straight white cis male power fantasy, barring a few exceptions.This list is not comprehensive—I love a lot of characters, but am trying to keep this list relatively short. 

So, it's a good time to be a Marvel fan, considering the use of more Marvel characters than ever in the MCU. Though I'm lucky to have a good percentage of my favorites as characters deemed worthy enough of movie exposure, I also believe several have a lot of potential to be fan favorites if they just got a push and the right creative team. Alright, then. On to the list:

1     1. Carol Danvers, current Captain Marvel:
 What can I say about this character? She was one of the first Marvel characters I fell in love with back when the only thing I knew about Marvel were their movies. (Though this was back around 2010, so the only ones I knew were Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Hulk.)

The main reason I love Carol is because she’s inspiring: she was created in 1968 and was a woman in a traditionally male career field who was portrayed as competent. Marvel chose her to become the original Ms. Marvel in the late 70s, which led to her receiving her first of several ongoing series, becoming a member of the Avengers, and since the new millennium, she’s received enough of a push to be one of Marvel’s flagship females. Isn’t that empowering? She started off as a minor character and has grown as a character in the books and as an IP for Marvel comics—originally she had no powers and now she’s one of the most respected and powerful female heroes based on Marvel Earth. She's also a nerd: she named her cat Chewie and wrote a science-fiction novel. Another appealing characteristic of Carol is that she's struggled with insecurity and desire to be recognized and, since Marvel rebranded her as Captain Marvel, she's gotten it, both in-universe and out.

Oh, and I’m shallow—while I don’t care much for her current costume, her flight abilities and energy projection and absorption powers are awesome and a great visual.

2.   T’Challa, the Black Panther:
While sharing a name with a black power organization makes the Panther a character many deem racist, he still holds up better than some of Marvel’s other attempts at black male characters: he was competent, had no powers but was skilled, idealized, and was deemed worthy of joining the Avengers based on his status as a hero, not because of his race so as to do some offensive story critiquing affirmative action (I’m looking at you, Falcon, Rage, Triathlon). The most unfortunate element is that he’s typically had his face covered up, but I’m willing to deal with it because the visual is so powerful.

Black Panther represents Afro-futurism and proof that if Africa hadn't suffered under European colonization, the continent would thrive. (Though sometimes it bothers me in the comics how Wakandans are sometimes portrayed as being so “superior” when the country still has social stratification and religious zealot-ism.) I have my issues with him, of course -- hyper-masculinity is at the core of T'Challa and his mythos, and the few female supporting Panther allies (Monica Lynn, his step-mother, Queen Divine Justice, Shuri) tend to be side-lined. Also, like with Black Bolt and Namor, there’s the logistics of how someone who’s supposed to be running a kingdom on a regular basis has time to play Avenger over in the West. 

But yeah, I love Black Panther. Favorite run is by Christopher Priest.

3     3. Hank Pym
Yes, I know why everyone hates him. But can I say that’s why I like him? I like that he and Janet’s relationship always fails, that he always switches super hero identities, that he has a Never Live It Down reputation with the fans. . . .

Why? Because it makes him so relatable to me. I’ve always been considered talented and smart, but except for grades in school and college, I fail at just about everything I do. Both the fictional Hank and I are always trying to prove ourselves and learn from our mistakes, trying to keep others from making the same mistake we did. Also, I love size changing. It’s such a badly used power. Imagine if you could shrink things—that would destroy the luggage industry alone. 

4      4. Janet van Dyne, the Wasp:
While I love female heroes who do traditionally male jobs, I’ve long felt that superheroes or women of action who take on traditionally feminine pursuits have received a bad rap, especially from other women. Janet may have been written in a creepy sexist manner in her early days, but you can’t hold that against the character throughout her entire history.

Taken as a whole, Janet was one of the first Marvel heroines to have a gender-neutral codename, have a costume that wasn’t ridiculously revealing, kept her code name (unlike say, Carol Danvers), and had a character arc that allowed her to grow. She has multiple and unique powers: ability to shrink and grow, flight, ability to speak to insects, and her stingers. She’s led the Avengers multiple times; she wanted to be hero because she wanted revenge against who killed her father; she also waned to help people. She is a fashionista with her own company who’s designed and worn hundreds of costumes, all of them colorful and full of personality; in this day and age, she’d be the sort of super hero who’d host her own reality show. She’s an ally and friend to just about every female hero in the Marvel U. And, most importantly, she wants to have a good time. 

5     5. Pietro Maximoff, Quicksilver:
I wish I could claim I was one of those hipster types who liked Pietro long before he ever showed up in a movie, but I can only honestly admit to having been a fan since 2012. Basically, he’s the sort of character I often love: snarky, has feelings of inadequacy, unique and visual super powers, and has never been quite the traditional alpha male. In many ways, he’s more feminine—he’s drawn like a pretty boy, has deferred to many women as leaders, his powers make him more agile and swift, and he has been mainly defined by his relationships to females in his life (Wanda, Crystal, Luna). He’s also an international ethnic minority: Romani from the Balkans.

Also, let me let the record straight: He is not just “Marvel’s Flash.” He’s barely ever used, has only ever had about 18 issues of solo material, and is nowhere near as fast as Flash. At his fastest, Pietro can only go Mach 5. Come on, now. Similar powers alone does not a rip-off make.

6      6. Jennifer Walters, the Sensational She-Hulk:
While I stopped liking the Hulk a few years ago, I also fell in love with his cousin, mainly due to the John Byrne and Dan Slott writings of the character. The main appeal for me is that she does what she does because she legitimately wants to make the justice system work and make the world a better place, while keeping a smile on her face. Though I’ll admit it helps that since her power upgrade, she’s been portrayed as being one of the most purely strong females on Marvel Earth, even drawn with some proper muscle. Plus, Jen’s comics are hilarious.

7     7. Steve Rogers, Captain America:
As much I would love to claim I liked him before it was popular . . . I got into him through the Chris Evans portrayal. ‘Nuff said.

8.      Thor Odinson:
While I’ve not read many Thor comics, he’s just got such a great world crafted around him with exceptional allies and villains, an interesting personality, and some brilliant costume designs. Also, how could you not like Mjolnir?

9      9. Monica Rambeau
I’d list her codename, but she’s probably going to ditch the Spectrum name just like all the others. This one, I’ll admit, is mainly an appeal to relatability and wish fulfillment: I’m a black female, so is Monica. She’s got a fun, upbeat personality; she’s worn some brilliant costumes with a black and white color scheme; she has natural thick hair; her powers allow her to literally turn into the different wavelengths and frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. How is that not awesome?

1  10.  Tie—Heather Douglas, Moondragon and Phyla-Vell:
A bit of a copout, putting two characters in the same spot, but because these two have often been associated with each other since they became a couple and I do happen to love them both equally, I couldn’t separate them.

Why do I love Moondragon? Why wouldn’t I? She’s a bald telepathic scientist who’s an expert in martial arts, has worn striking (though ridiculously sexualized) costumes with capes and high collars, and thinks she’s some sort of god due to her superiority complex. (If you’re only familiar with the movies, she’s also Drax’s daughter.)

And Phyla . . . She’s got great powers—flight, super strength, energy absorption, cosmic awareness—and has a sweet, calming personality, while also trying to live up to the shadow of her late father and brother, Mar-Vell and Genis-Vell. The two of them complement each other perfectly—so perfectly, they’re my favorite superhero romance.

Honorable Mentions:

Clint Barton, Hawkeye:  While he’s had his ups and downs over the years, Clint has always been an engaging and easy-to-relate-to character. Though I’ll admit the loss of his classic costume and the Matt Fraction characterization have made him less fun than he used to be.

Bonita Juarez, Firebird: A lovely design, fire powers, woman of color (a Latina), a social worker whose goal is to try and care for her own community which tends to be neglected in terms of superheroics, and the fact that she’s a devout Catholic who may or may not be immortal. . . . This character has been criminally underused and deserves to be back on the Avengers. To continue that line of thought:

Miguel Santos, Living Lightning: Considering that the Avengers have received complaints about diversity in recent years (and for good reason), why neither Bonita nor Miguel have been brought back to the team since Kurt Busiek left is beyond me. Miguel has a back story that makes him easy to adapt (father a part of cult, Miguel gets powers by accessing the experiments in the cult headquarters, boom, superhero). He’s a young, level-headed guy with a strong devotion to people and to his Catholic faith. And, perhaps most notably in this day and age, he’s a Latino who came out as gay during Dan Slott’s Great Lakes Avengers miniseries. Seriously, Marvel, you claim you care about diversity, but you won’t use the perfectly fine minority-identified Avengers you already have! I mean, Dan Slott said that he considered Miguel a wonderful role model. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He would be if you (Marvel) would actually feature him in the comic books

Monet St. Croix, M: Not a fan of X-Men, but I discovered her through Peter David’s X-Factor Investigations and have loved most of her appearances. Great look, powers, and personality. 

Jericho Drumm, Doctor Voodoo: My love for him is new, but it is strong. Where’s Jericho’s movie, Marvel? He’d be far more unique than Doctor Strange (though I like him too). 

Lorna Dane, Polaris: Like Monet, I discovered her through Peter David’s X-Factor works, and have grown fond of her. Love her great powers, great design, her friendship/former sisterhood with Quicksilver, and the fact that she’s a college-educated woman who was once the most feminist Marvel heroine back in the 1960s (other than Crystal) who’s been underused by X-Men comic writers which began under Chris Claremont who often contrasted her with his pet characters, Jean Grey and Storm. This despite X-Men supposedly being the most “progressive” corner of the Marvel U. Then again, it just makes her easier to root for. 
Hercules: I've always enjoyed him, but in recent years, through the work of writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente he's grown to be one of the most genuinely compelling but also fun characters in the Marvel universe, which is always good to see from the classic 60s creations, who, more often than not, only become more jaded and cynical with time. (He's also a rare bisexual hero, but that's not surprising if you're familiar with the myths.)

Sersi: Need this be explained? Go read some Eternals comics as well as certain issues of the John Byrne and Bob Harras/Steve Epting runs on Avengers (Volume 1) starting with issue #314 up to around issue #375 and you’ll see why. She's got a great design, has strong and unique powers like molecule manipulation, and a fun, carefree personality.

Medusa: All hail the queen.  This image should speak for itself.

Crystal: Basically, as the Inhuman princess of Attilan she's the Marvel equivalent of a Disney princess. If they pushed her enough after the Inhumans movie, she'd be bigger than Elsa since she can control all the classical Greek elements: water, fire, earth, and air and they could sell lots of merchandise with her in her costume and some cute outfits. Oh, and Lockjaw is such a potential merchandising goldmine it makes Rocket Raccoon's success seem tame. Though her character has often been aimless over the years, she's to me what Ariel from the Little Mermaid would be like if her marriage hadn't ended her chance to have adventures, which makes for compelling escapism.

Bobby Drake, Iceman: This one is more for potential than any specific story. Like the other X-Men on this list, Bobby's been mostly wasted as a character, with some bright spots (in particular Marjorie Liu's Astonishing X-Men run).

Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman: This is mainly due to her friendship with Carol Danvers. Her comics have never sold particularly well, but she's got potential to go places in adaptations, so I'll continue to hope for the best. 

Jamie Madrox: This character is a perfect example of, "There are no bad characters, only bad writers," which basically means the best writers can make anyone a great character. And Peter David did exactly that with Jamie, transforming him from a one-dimensional joke with lame powers into a lovable, complex everyman and expanded his powers so that not only can he create duplicates ("dupes," he calls them) of himself, they're sentient enough so that they can learn, live lives, and when he reabsorbs them, he gains all their knowledge and experience. Plus, his sense of humor and his obsession with being a noir hero in the Madrox miniseries and while he was running the detective/mutant agency, X-Factor Investigations, was one of the most consistently entertaining things to read during the 2000s in Marvel Comics. P.A.D. may be done with Jamie, to the point that he's gained a happy ending, but whether his time is over or not, his adventures will always be remembered fondly. 
There are others I care for that just barely missed the cut but those are my top characters—that is, the ones that I just get so excited every time they do something awesome in a comic or appear in an adaptation and are awesome that I get piped up on the adrenaline.

Who are your favorite Marvel characters? Do you primarily like the ones that have shown up in the movies, or have your favorites remained only in the world of the comics thus far? Unlike me, are most of your favorites X-Men (or X-Women)? Why do you like them?

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